Oct 30, 2018, 12:25:58 PM CDT Oct 10, 2023, 12:27:17 PM CDT

5 ways to control sugar intake this Halloween

A Children's Health registered dietitian shares tips on creating a fun Halloween with less sugar

Little girl with Halloween candy bucket Little girl with Halloween candy bucket

To kids, Halloween is a fun night of costumes and collecting treats from houses up and down the streets. To parents, Halloween can mean something entirely different – piles of candy sitting around and weeks of constantly negotiating how much candy their children can eat.

"Halloween candy has large amounts of added sugars. Children should aim for less than 25 grams, or about 6 teaspoons of added sugar each day," says Brittany Smith, registered dietitian with Children’s Health℠. "Excessive sugar intake can lead to childhood overweight and obesity, increasing risk for chronic diseases like diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease."

Fortunately, there are many ways to celebrate Halloween without overloading on sugar. Smith shares her advice on limiting sweets without limiting fun.

1. Set limits on how much candy kids can eat.

"An average fun-size candy bar has 8.5 grams of sugar – nearly half a child's daily recommended limit," shares Smith. "Eat just two pieces of fun-size candy and children have likely reached or exceeded their sugar intake for the day."

Smith recommends parents sit down with their children and discuss what the rules are on eating candy. "Set clear guidelines on how much candy your children can have, but allow them to select the candy," she says. "Maybe allow one or two pieces of candy each day out of the Halloween candy bucket, but let your child select the piece to eat."

Smith also reminds parents to steer clear of sugar-free candy. "Sugar-free candy does not mean it is calorie-free. Some candies that are sugar-free may have even more calories because the product typically has more fat. Additionally, sugar-free candies can cause unpleasant side effects such as stomach pain and diarrhea."

2. Focus on fun this Halloween, not sugar.

"There are many ways to have fun without the excessive sugar." Smith says. "Families can shift the focus to making memories by doing fun Halloween related activities."

Some fun, sugar-free Halloween activities include:

  • Pumpkin carving
  • Spooky treasure hunt
  • Face painting
  • Capture the ghost (instead of capture the flag)
  • Pin the fangs on the vampire

"The list goes on for fun ways to celebrate the holiday," reminds Smith. "Any game or activity that keeps kids moving or encourages them to use their imagination – without focusing on sugary snacks – is a win in my book. Plus kids will remember these moments for years to come"

3. Encourage healthy eating with themed snacks and meals.

Believe it or not, holidays like Halloween are actually a great time to get kids to eat more healthy foods or encourage them to try foods they may not be willing to try at other times of the year. Head to the kitchen together and concoct some spooky, healthy snacks and meals together for a memorable holiday.

Smith recommends offering fruits, vegetables, whole grains and proteins to round out the occasional treat this Halloween.

"Kids can get creative in the kitchen this Halloween," she says. "You can make pumpkins with cutie oranges and pretzels, Frankenstein heads with Kiwi fruit and witch brooms with pretzels and cheese sticks. The sky is the limit!"

4. Offer low-sugar or non-food Halloween treats.

"Healthy treats, and even non-food treats, can be a fun surprise to trick-or-treaters," says Smith.

Instead of heading to the candy aisle, consider stocking up on the following for your neighborhood's superheroes, witches and ghosts:

  • Bouncy balls
  • Cheese sticks with ghost faces
  • Clementines (draw faces for added fun!)
  • Popcorn
  • Pretzel sticks
  • Spider rings
  • Temporary tattoos
  • Themed bubbles

"Non-food Halloween treats are also a great way to include kids with food allergies," adds Smith.

5. Swap candy for small toys or prizes.

"Limit how much candy your kids eat by swapping out their trick-or-treat bounty with a small toy or prize," suggests Smith. "Talk to your kids ahead of time and let them know after one week, they can trade their candy in for a toy they've wanted, a new book or another small prize."

Other ways to get kids excited about turning in their candy include:

  • Making a goody bag full of small prizes or non-food treats they get on Halloween night or the next day.
  • Introducing the "Switch Witch" – a friendly witch who visits houses at night to trade candy for small toys.

"Halloween doesn't have to be celebrated with candy and sweets," says Smith. "There are a lot of great ways to celebrate the holiday, enjoy a few treats and still be healthy. Talk to kids about why it is important to not eat candy all day, every day. Involving your children empowers them to make lifelong healthy choices."

Learn more

If you have questions or concerns about how you can help your family establish healthy eating habits, contact the Get Up & Go Program at Children's Health.

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diabetes, eating habits, food allergy, food and drink, holidays, Halloween, nutrition, obesity

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